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Asking the Clergy: How can people of faith have a civil dialogue when they disagree?

Rabbi Marc A. Gruber of Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth,

Rabbi Marc A. Gruber of Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth, the Very Rev. Christopher D. Hofer of The Church of St. Jude (Episcopal), and Bhante Kottawe Nanda of the Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center. Photo Credit: Renee Gruber; Kerry M. Brady; John Roca

Americans may disagree on many things, but most agree that we are living in divisive times. This week’s clergy discuss how the faithful can talk over hot-button issues without losing their tempers.

Rabbi Marc A. Gruber

Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth, Rockville Centre

If we view ourselves and others as created in God’s image, we are able to treat one another with derekh eretz, a Hebrew phrase for a Jewish virtue that literally means “the way of the land” but can also be translated as etiquette or good manners.

When we see God’s image in other people, including those with whom we disagree, we can enjoy productive dialogue. The derekh eretz is about rules of behavior. It also includes respect and civility. It is doing the right thing and treating other people well. Basic to derekh eretz is the sensitive consideration of the members of our families, courtesy to all people and care in our speech.

Living in community means that we will disagree; derekh eretz requires us not to mask our differences, but to resolve them respectfully. We must listen to others with an openness to the possibility that they are right and we are wrong. I know that we can do it successfully, even when it is difficult and challenging.

Our respect and kindness will improve our interactions with one another. We can create a ripple effect that will benefit our communities and our society.

The Very Rev. Christopher D. Hofer

Rector, The Church of St. Jude (Episcopal), Wantagh

I’m old enough to remember President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, a Democrat, battling during the daytime, yet meeting for drinks in the evening as they sought to understand each other’s beliefs.

Regretfully, in the age social media, civil dialogue has been replaced with the delusion of infallibility. Instead of striving to understand viewpoints of others and ourselves (dialogue), we have become relentless in arguing our position over others (debate). In examining history, choosing debate over dialogue is nothing new. From the first Ecumenical Councils to the present, Christian leaders frequently declare their “Christianity” to be the truth and that of others to be heretical. Thankfully, we don’t have to be like this.

In the Episcopal tradition, we attempt to live the via media, Latin for “the middle way.” Conceived by 16th century priest and theologian Richard Hooker, via media seeks to find the middle ground between two extremes. It involves dialogue for the purpose of discerning shared core values and beliefs without making a judgment as to who is right or who is wrong.

If we see the other as beloved children of the same God, trying to reconcile a changing world, we will spend more time listening, arguing less and understanding more.

Bhante Kottawe Nanda

Head monk, Long Island Buddhist Mediation Center, Riverhead

According to Buddhism, people disagree because they cling to their respective views or dogmas. Many of these views can be both inaccurate and harmful.

Kalama Sutta, one of the Buddha’s discourses, tells of a community in ancient India. This community was confused by the teachings of various contemporary religious leaders. Every religious leader who visited them claimed to be speaking the truth and dismissed what others said as false. The people of that community came to the Buddha and asked how they could tell the difference between truth and falsehood when everyone was declaring that what they taught was the truth. The Buddha answered that one should be wise enough to find out what is true and what is false through self-inquiry, rather than accepting things blindly.

The wise accept things only when they realize that something is logical, practical and fruitful, after doing a lot of research by way of questioning, experimenting and observing.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com. Find more LI Life stories at newsday.com/LILife.

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